Thomas Dekker once said, “Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” He wasn’t wrong. Sleep, or how much of it we get, affects our lives immensely. The average human spends 1/3 of their entire life sleeping, which could be more or less for you depending on your sleep habits. However, when you start to understand the reason sleep is essential, that 1/3 of your life getting quality shut-eye suddenly becomes an integral sliver of your health and wellbeing. Without sleep, you won’t only be tired and less aware, you won’t be able to achieve your fitness goals either.
If you want to get results from the gym and diet quicker, you need recovery time; and sleep happens to be the best kind of recovery you can get. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the ways sleep, or lack thereof, can negatively impact your life.
Sleep Deprivation Sabotages Your Workout
As a fitness-minded individual, this is obviously where sleep deprivation is going to hit you the hardest. Whatever your fitness goals might be, you need to rest and recover in order to bring your highest self to the gym. If you aren’t sleeping well, your body isn’t going to recover fully from a grueling workout session the day before, and you might wake up feeling as if you’ve been run over by a truck. Because muscles aren’t getting repaired overnight, the chance of injury increases as well.
A lack of sleep will also slow down the production of human growth hormone (HGH), the anti-aging, muscle building, and fat-burning hormone we all need. Since HGH is released during deep sleep, not getting enough hours limits how much enters your body. An increase in the stress hormone cortisol further reduces the production of growth hormone.
A study looked at the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players on 3 hours of sleep a night. There was a significant impact on their bench press, leg press, and deadlift. When participants were allowed to sleep longer, they had a faster-timed sprint, better shooting accuracy, and increased vigor. Another study had similar results when measuring the impact of sleep deprivation on lifting performance and even reported significant deterioration of muscle power with a second day of poor rest.
A study from the University of Chicago followed 10 overweight males and females for two periods, two weeks in length. The participants had a low-calorie diet and exercise regimens, but one group was allowed to sleep for 8.5 hours a night while the others only got 5.5 hours. Shockingly, both groups lost weight, but only the dieters who had 8.5 hours of sleep lost fat. The others? They lost muscle.
So, if you’re waking up at 4 AM to hit the gym but only getting 4 hours of sleep a night, you’re actually sabotaging your health and fitness. You’re better off getting the full 7-8 hours of sleep and finding another time to work out.
Lack of Sleep Changes Fat Cells
Reflect on a night when you hardly slept. When you woke up, you probably felt horrendous. Groggy. Depressed. Frustrated. That’s not just your brain reacting to a lack of sleep—your entire body is feeling the effects. In fact, the body gets something called “metabolic grogginess.” Within four days of sleep deprivation, this metabolic grogginess gets heavier. The University of Chicago states that insulin sensitivity could even drop more than 30-percent. Another similar study from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles reports that a single night of bad rest causes as much insulin resistance as 6 months on a high-fat diet.
What does that have to do with anything though? Well, insulin assists in glucose transportation and consumption. When your body is loaded with glucose, your metabolism downshifts, and it doesn’t utilize fat for energy. In fact, glucose is stored as new fat. Decreased insulin sensitivity, or insulin resistance, is the primary cause of Type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Less Rest, More Weight
While sleep isn’t solely responsible for how much fat you carry, it does play a role. When your hours asleep are reduced, you gain weight. And it doesn’t take too long for this side effect to happen, either. A study done by the University of Colorado discovered that one week of sleeping only 5 hours a night led to an average weight gain of 2 pounds.
Here’s another way to look at the correlation between sleep and weight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that 35-percent of people are sleep deprived. 35-percent of people are also obese. It’s not just coincidence, especially when you consider the way lack of sleep alters your fat storage.
Lack of sleep will make you irritable, seek out sugary comfort foods, and make you feel satisfied after eating. This is thanks to two hormones known as leptin and ghrelin.
Leptin is the satiety hormone, regulating hunger and feelings of fullness.
Ghrelin is the hormone that makes you feel hungry.
These hormones work together to help switch feelings of hunger on and off. Research has found that lack of sleep throws off the rhythms that help these hormones work in sync. Furthermore, ghrelin levels increase, and leptin levels decrease; so, you end up feeling hungrier more often.
High-Calorie Food Cravings
While it has already been touched on, it is worth reiterating: Sleep has an inverse relationship with food intake. A study published in Nature Communications reports that even a single night of sleep deprivation can drastically impair your frontal lobe, making you feel like you’re drunk. A similar study with results published in Psychoneuroendocrinology furthered this by saying that sleep deprivation even compels you to choose larger portion sizes.
The bottom line: you can’t tell yourself no when you’re tired.
How To Improve Your Sleep
Everyone is different, but if you want to improve your health and start seeing the fruits of your gym time, you need anywhere from 7-9 hours of rest a night. In order to get more quality sleep, be sure to do the following:
- Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption near bedtime. Cut off caffeine after 7 PM. Both substances make it harder for you to sleep and can reduce the depth of your rest.
- Exercise earlier in the day. Workout at least 4-6 hours before getting to bed, because your body needs time to wind down before you get into bed. Otherwise, you will have a harder time getting to sleep.
- Try yoga before bed, because this will help you reduce stress and relax the body.
- Make sure your room is dark and cool.
- Avoid napping throughout the day if you are suffering from insomnia at night. Only nap less than 30 minutes when needed, because anything longer could upset your sleep cycle.
Remember, sleep deprivation is going to weaken your entire system, and that puts a damper on your growth. If you want to meet your fitness goals, you need to not only prioritize your workouts, you need to rest and recover too.
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